INTERVIEW: Kate Ashwin Whips Up Volume Four of ‘Widdershins’!

Kate Ashwin’s long-running webseries ‘Widdershins’ has been going from strength to strength these last few years. A fantasy series set in God’s Own County of Yorkshire, each volume tells a standalone story set within the same universe. Over the last three years we’ve seen magicians, spirits, cut-throats, and, well, evil zookeepers, all wandering into the town of Widdershins for madcap (with an emphasis on the ‘mad’ adventures). It’s brilliantly funny, and held together wonderfully by her terrific work as artist.

Having published three volumes collecting together the first three stories of the series, Ashwin took to Kickstarter earlier this month to try and fund Volume 4. But hey, wouldn’t you know? She’s already reached the funding target and THEN some! She’s currently almost doubled her initial target, and there’re still ages left to go – now would be, if you ask me, the perfect time to jump on and try the newest story!

‘Piece of Cake’ will collect together the fourth Widdershins story, which centres around a baking contest, a couple of ghosts, and… well, that’d be telling. To find out more about what you should expect from the series, should you decide to pledge to Kickstarter, The Spire spoke to Kate about how the series came about. She told all about how Widdershins came together, what to expect from this latest collection, and also offers advice for anybody else looking to crowdfund their own comics!

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Steve: So, first off – what’s the general premise of the series?

Kate: Widdershins is a set of Victorian-era adventure stories set in a town in Yorkshire, which just happens to be the centre of magical happenings for all of England. Wizards, bounty hunters, and the like abound!

Steve: For this fourth volume, the story will collect ‘A Piece of Cake’. What can readers expect from this new story? Do you tend to shift genre between volumes, or do you maintain a consistent tone to all the stories?

Kate: I try to keep the same light-hearted, fun type of tone throughout all of the series, as it’s my favourite type of story to write and read – that sort of Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, Tintin type feel.

The fourth one is something of a departure from the Victorian setting, however, as the plot involves flappers, fifties housewives, modern punks, and.. well, it’s a bit different, that’s all I’m saying!

Steve: How do you link the various books, which all stand alone from one another, together? Do you have characters walk in and out of books, or shared locations, or?

Kate: All of the stories largely take place in Widdershins, a town in West Yorkshire which contains an “anchor”- think of it like a magical hotspot – and it’s one of only a handful in the world, so naturally, there’s a lot of stories to be told around it.

While each story focuses on a different set of characters, they do often wander into each other’s tales, not entirely intentionally. It’s fun to drop in a mention of a plot point or person from one story into the next, just to make sure it all links together, at least a little.

Steve: Are there any particular characters you’ve found yourself really enjoying in particular? What do you most enjoy about making the series, yourself?

Kate: I’ve always had a lot of fun writing the dialogue for Sidney Malik, a rather excitable wizard turned stage magician, since it’s always enjoyable to write a stream of endless optimism. I’m also a sucker for writing a good argument, so in the story I’m currently writing I’m having entirely too much fun – having the stuffy, snippy wizard Ben and the grumpy, chaotic vagrant Mal taking shots at each other.

I mostly enjoy writing dialogue and building up layers of character. It’s really great to set up character dynamics that either bounce off each other perfectly, or rub up against each other like sandpaper, then rearrange them or add something or remove something or.. well, just generally have fun playing with them.

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Steve: The stories are set in God’s own County, Yorkshire, which we both know is the finest place around. What made you decide to set the series here? What does the Yorkshire mindset add to the stories?

Kate: I live in West Yorkshire myself, so it’s a mix of readily-available reference and love of the place! And frankly, too many England-based stories are set in London, anyway, so the north is long due a look-in.

I’m unsure how much of the mindset comes across, aside from what I add in my own attitude I suppose, but I try to include a fair bit of the aesthetic- lots of terraced houses, occasional beautiful moors, cobbled streets, and the like.

Steve: When did you first start working on Widdershins? You work on it full-time now, I believe?

Kate: It started in 2011, just as I’d finished my previous webcomic, Darken. I took a punt and started working on comics full time when Widdershins began – kind of a risk, but worth a try.

Steve: How has the progression up to becoming a full-time artist been? How long were you working before this was something you could feel safe in taking full-time?

Kate: Before going full time, I’d been putting comics online for something like a decade or so, just doing it for fun while doing my degree and a couple of office jobs. Like I said, it was something of a risk, but with my husband in full time stable employment and with my job at the time being a working-from-home “chat moderator” for an online bingo site, I didn’t have a lot to lose by giving it a go!

I’ll never be raking in the big bucks, but we’re comfortable and paying the bills, so I feel very fortunate to be in this position!

Steve: What are the main challenges of maintaining a webcomic? Is it consistency – of always having pages in reserve so readers know when to return to the site next?

Kate: I don’t actually have a page buffer right now, since I have a terrible habit of taking on rather too much work all at once. So right now my main challenge is keeping up the thrice-weekly updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Sometimes that sees me up till silly hours of the night, but it’s always worth it.

There’s also the relative challenge of keeping up to date with the various new ideas and sites like Kickstarter and Patreon, as you don’t want to be too slow picking up on the hot new trend, but you don’t want to invest too much in something that might be a flash in the pan.

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Steve: When writing Widdershins, do you plan things out as a whole, and then fill in the skeleton (so to speak) or do you keep only a few pages ahead of the readers?

Kate: When I start each story, I have the bare bones (there are a lot of boney metaphors for writing, aren’t there?) of the plot all scribbled out in a notebook. Then I type up a page-by-page outline, basically vaguely outlining what will happen on each page. Then I get annoyed with it all and erase large sections and rewrite them. Repeat that last part a couple of times.

When I’m eventually happy with the outline, I start properly scripting it. I’m usually a scene or two ahead on the full script compared to where the art is up to, but I edit right up till it’s on the page, tweaking the occasional word and such. I pick at it horribly, basically.

Steve: How long does each page take for you to complete? You work on every aspect of it – including colouring and lettering. What are the time-consuming parts of the series?

Kate: I don’t tend to time myself, because it’s a little concerning when I do! It seems to really depend on the page, though, as you can have a relatively easy page of talking heads that only takes 8 hours, or a complex, background-heavy establishing shot type of page that takes nearly 20 hours.

Inking it is the part that takes the most time, but luckily it’s also the most relaxing, and I can have the TV running in the background while I’m going. Netflix is a godsend for this part.

Steve: Can I ask about the design of the physical book? You print on A5, which several other webcomics have also done as they head to print. How did you decide on the sizing and format of the books? What were the considerations you made?

Kate: I made it landscape, as it’s a webcomic first and foremost, and that’s the format most people will see it in. Landscape fits quite neatly onto a monitor screen, and I designed the site so that at most resolutions, the whole page will be visible as you’re flicking through the archive, meaning you don’t have to scroll down if you don’t want to. It’s just one of those small things that might keep the reader immersed.

Luckily, it translates to an interesting book format, too! When the seventh book in the series is done, I’m hoping to get a nice book sleeve printed, so that they can fit either way up on the bookshelf and still look good. As any comic reader knows, you’ve gotta think of how it’d look on the shelf! It’s why I’m keeping a similar design format and matching spines, too.

Steve: Looking now as you’ve reached a fourth print volume, can you see certain progressions or development in your art and writing? Are there any points where you think ‘there is a really noticeable shift HERE in how I make this’?

Kate: Oh yes, there’s a few things I can look at in the first volume and cringe at! I don’t think there’s a flat line, especially, since I’m drawing nearly every day and building up, it’s more of a gradual progression. Hopefully the difference between the latest Widdershins page and the first Darken page is pretty stark!

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Steve: When did you decide to start taking the project to Kickstarter, to help fund the print editions? How has crowdfunding changed the way you make comics?

Kate: I did the first Widdershins Kickstarter to fund the second volume, and launched it on the very day that Kickstarter opened its doors to projects from the UK. A lot of my American friends and peers had been doing very well on it, and it’d built up a good reputation already, so it wasn’t a hard choice to make! Having paid for the first volume out of pocket – another gamble – I was eager to see if the demand was there for the second, and thankfully it was!

I don’t know if it’s changed the pages themselves, but it’s certainly changed my publishing schedule, in that I actually have one now. It’s given me the freedom to be able to print even if we don’t have the couple of thousand required in the bank, which is a serious relief, and I believe it’s also brought in new readers, too!

Steve: What advice would you give to others who are considering Kickstarter for their own projects?

Kate: Give it a go, but do your research beforehand! Spell out clearly what your book is, what format it is, how many pages, etc. Honestly, I can’t say it any better than Spike Trotman did in her “Let’s Kickstart a Comic” booklet – http://ironcircus.com/shop/home/27-let-s-kickstart-a-comic-pdf-ebook.html

Steve: There’s obviously the Widdershins site itself – where else can people find you and your work online?

Kate: I’m on Twitter here and Tumblr at katedrawscomics.tumblr.com. You can read Widdershins for free, updated three times a week, at widdershinscomic.com , or via your iOs device with the Comic Chameleon app! There’s also the three completed volumes so far up on Comixology, with the fourth set to join them as soon as the Kickstarter’s completed. Much choice!

Many thanks to Kate for her time, and answers! If this has all piqued your interest, then volume 4 of Widdershins is running on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW!

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